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truffler1635 at my-deja.com
Mon Dec 13 13:40:11 EST 1999
The following article is from The Sunday Oregonian, Dec. 12, 1999, pL1
WREATHED IN TRADITION
When an inventor full of dreams and scalp-oil schemes started a holly
farm in 1945, he create a family heritage.
By M.J. Cody, The Oregonian
Each morning at 10 minutes to 8, the schoolhouse bell clangs. Martin
puts on his padded flannel jacket and stocking cap and heads across the
road toward the school. These mornings he is headed not to the first
grade, or to the sixth, but to the holly fields and sheds next to the
These are the grounds of Oregon Holly, his father's holly business,
started in 1945, where Martin and his brother, Fred Brandenfels, have
planted thousands of trees that they started from cuttings nearly 50
Martin and Fred Walked this same route when they attended Yankton
grade school, right past the Yankton Store, which has become the
production shed for making wreaths and garlands. Now, living in his
boyhood home, it is deja vu every day - the school the school bell
(still pulled by rope), the walk, the yard, the fields, the house full
of furniture and knick-knacks that have barely changed since he was a
Carl Brandenfels, his wife Pauline, and their two boys moved to
Yankton a few miles southwest of St. Helens, in 1943. Carl was a farmer,
a dreamer, and inventor and all-around hustler of an endless stream of
innovations and contraptions.
Those who knew Carl often laughed at his schemes, or just shook
their heads, but when Carl created a hair restoring oil called
Scalptone, everyone had to have it. From one ad place in The Oregonian
in the spring of 1945, the hair tonic netted $75,000, a fortune in those
days. Carl had hit the jackpot and was on his way to becoming a
He bought the Yankton property with hopes of making a killing in
filberts. Unfortunately the filbert orchard failed, so Carl began
researching other cash crops.
He soon learned that nearly 85 percent of all the holly sold in the
United States was grown within 45 miles of Portland. And the loveliest
varieties, such as the prickly variegated English holly, or Ilex, with
its abundance of red berries, would thrive only in certain conditions: a
damp and misty climate similar to England's. The mild temperatures, the
soil, the humidity and the alternating rain and sunshine of the Lower
Columbia basin were ideal. Carl uprooted his filbert orchards and
Gadgets fill dream house
In 1947, Carl, still reeling in his new hair-tonic fortune and
waiting for his holly to mature, hired the well-known West Coast
architect Roscoe Hemingway to build a "dream house."
The house, featured in The Oregonian in November 1947, was a modern
marvel for rural Oregon, with such fantastic touches as an intercom
system, radio-controlled garage doors and electronic eyes that actually
lit up the porch and yard when anyone approached.
The headline on The Oregonian article read: "Even Rube Goldburg
couldn't equal gadgets being installed in hair farmer's new house." It
had a burglar-alarm system with activators on windows and doors that,
when triggered - such as when one of the boys was trying to sneak into
the house after curfew - would throw all the lights on and set off a
searchlight and siren perched on the roof.
Carl didn't want the boys hanging out in town - that is, the big
city of St. Helens - so he had the 6,400-square-foot grand ranch-style
home built to accommodate his sons. A half-sized basketball court - with
oak floors, knotty pine walls, high-beamed ceiling and wall-to-wall
windows - was built over the three-car garage.
Stairs from the minigym led to the fir- and cedar-paneled attic play
area running the length of the house, which had a library, a stage and a
small movie theater.
Downstairs in the kitchen, an authentic soda fo8untain was
incorporated into one corner complete with all the ice cream syrups,
toppings and makings the boys and their friends could want.
The dictum was that martin and Fred could use the gym and attic, the
soda fountain, etc., and could stay up as long as they wanted as long as
they were never late for school and their grades were good. The first
week of the new rules in the new house, the boys had all their friends
over, horsing around until 2 or 3 a.m. They dragged themselves to school
but kept up the goofing off until - as Carl knew it would - the novelty
wore off and the boys reached their own equilibrium.
Holly business grows
As the years rolled on and the boys grew, the Brandenfels holly put
"Oregon on the world map," according to a 1966 article in The Sentinel-
Mist, St. Helens' local paper. at the time, Brandenfels' wreaths and
garlands were decorating such distinguished department stores as
Bullocks in Los Angeles, The Emporium in San Francisco and Scarborough's
in Austin, Texas.
The article went on to say that "Brandenfels decorations will stand
out and above the ordinary like a Michaelangelo surpasses a cheap
print." Ever the promoter, Carl may have had a hand in the descriptive
Today's Oregon Holly, with its 20 or so workers, is a small outfit
compared with Carl's holly production in the 1950s and '60s, when nearly
100 people were employed. The business waned in the '70s and was closed
in the 1980s as Carl's energy and health flagged.
He could, however, be seen on David Letterman in 1986 demonstrating
more inventions, including a small motorized scooter that conveniently
folded, and a two-man Ferris wheel, which left Letterman hanging
precariously in midair.
New generation moves in
After Carl's death, in 1990, Martin and his wife, Sally, moved back
to the family home. Oregon Holly was revived, becoming a full family
affair, now run by an assortment of family, friends, neighbors and crew.
Martin and Fred are now retired and gladly let others do the labor.
"I just watch the holly grow," Martin says.
Eight to 10 people work on production, with 10 or so in the fields
at the height of the short season, which runs from about Nov. 20 to Dec.
19. Charlie Anderson, a childhood friend of Martin's, is the field
foreman in charge of the greens. Sally creates the designs of wreaths
and garlands with her daughter, Naomi. (They're producing a rose garland
in May that is exquisite fresh and will dry beautifully as well.) Naomi
also oversees marketing and quality control when she's not at her "real"
job as an archaeologist.
The extended family contributes to the holly effort, from cousin
rose Grabowski, who helps out on weekends and Thanksgiving vacation, to
great-grandchildren who stick cuttings in pots.
"The whole operation is so well run by the crew that sometimes we're
just in the way," says Martin's daughter, Emily, who is a doctor in
Seattle with three young children. "But we love to come down at harvest
time and pitch in."
"One of my earliest memories is being with grandpa in the holly
fields," says Eric, one of Martin's sons. "He was always enthusiastic
and fun to be with, so it's great when we all get together here. Mostly
we do the boxing and shipping." Fred's daughter, Nancy, is the software
expert who keeps Oregon Holly updated.
Cutting goes on continually in the fields during production, so
there's always a fresh supply of greens. Most of the holly is cut on the
property, but the noble fir, grand fir and cedar is bought from local
farms in Deer Island and Scappoose.
All the greens are cut to length and dipped in a nontoxic solution
for longevity. After sipping, the cuttings, including supplemental
berries (only the female trees produce the fruit), are hauled into the
shed, where they are tied in bundles and handed along an assembly line
of quickly moving fingers. Wreaths and garlands are done by several
workers in a line, each doing a portion.
Photos of the finished items are posted at every work station, so
everyone is clear about how they should look. Since Smith & Hawken is
the biggest outlet for Oregon Holly, the product must match the catalog
offering. (An Oregon Holly wreath was on the cover of the Smith & Hawken
catalog in 1997.)
Fred, Rose, Sally and Naomi act as alternating inspection control
and personally check ever item going out. Once the wreaths and garlands
are completed and approved, they're swaddled in waxed paper, boxed,
labeled and stacked for shipment. Wreaths are delivered generally two
days from fresh cuttings to doorstep.
The school bell rings, and Martin once again heads across the
familiar road to chat with his old friend, Charlie, to cajole his kids,
to encourage the workers and to watch the holly grow.
Oregon Holly isn't the dynasty that Carl envisioned, but it is a
rare cottage industry keeping the family operation intact where
memories, fun and fin product entwine. Carl, ever the motivator, the
jokester, the huckster, the shining representative of his own creations,
would be proud to tout the revival of Oregon Holly, which "stands out
and above the ordinary like a Michaelangelo surpasses a cheap print."
Well, pretty close.
Posted as a courtesy by
Daniel B. Wheeler
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